How to Create Advanced Shapes in Adobe CS5 Illustrator - dummies

How to Create Advanced Shapes in Adobe CS5 Illustrator

By Jennifer Smith, Christopher Smith, Fred Gerantabee

Use advanced tools in Adobe Creative Suite (Adobe CS5) Illustrator to create unique shapes. The Pathfinder panel is an incredible tool you can use to combine, knock out (eliminate one shape from another), and even create shapes from other intersected shapes.

You use the Pathfinder panel to combine objects into new shapes. To use the Pathfinder panel, choose Window→Pathfinder.


Across the top row of the Pathfinder panel are the Shape modes, which let you control the interaction between selected shapes.

Adobe CS5 Illustrator Shape Modes
Mode What You Can Do with It
Add to Shape Area Unite the selected shape into one.
Subtract from Shape Area Cut out the topmost shape from the underlying shape.
Intersect Shape Areas Use the area of the topmost shape to clip the underlying shape
as a mask would.
Exclude Overlapping Shape Areas Use the area of the shape to invert the underlying shape,
turning filled regions into holes and vice versa.

If you like the result from using Exclude Overlapping Shapes mode, you can also create a similar effect by selecting several shapes and choosing Object→Compound Path→Make. This command “punches” the topmost shapes from the bottom shape.

The shapes remain separate so that you can still adjust them, which is helpful if you like to tweak your artwork (but it drives some people crazy). You can turn the result of using the Shape Mode buttons into one shape by either clicking the Expand button after selecting Shape mode or holding down the Alt key (Windows) or Option key (Mac) when clicking a Shape Mode button.

Pathfinders are the buttons at the bottom of the Pathfinder panel that let you create new shapes from overlapping objects.

Adobe CS5 Illustrator Pathfinders
Mode What You Can Do with It
Divide Divide all shapes into their own, individual shapes. This tool
is quite useful tool when you’re trying to create custom
Trim Remove the part of a filled object that’s hidden.
Merge Remove the part of a filled object that’s hidden. Also,
remove any strokes and merge any adjoining or overlapping objects
filled with the same color.
Crop Delete all parts of the artwork that fall outside the boundary
of the topmost object. You can also remove any strokes. If you want
strokes to remain when using this feature, select them and choose
Object→Path→Outline Stroke.
Outline Divide an object into its shape’s line segments, or
edges, useful for preparing artwork that needs a trap for
overprinting objects.
Minus Back Delete an object that’s in the back of frontmost